CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Coast Guard helicopter crew conducting a training flight was diverted to rescue a man clinging to a telephone pole in the water May 14 in South Bay, Port Aransas, Texas.
Maison Rickmon of Cuero, was riding his personal watercraft earlier in the day when it became disabled and was capsized by waves in the bay, leaving him in the water without a life jacket. He swam to the 100-foot wooden telephone pole, where he grabbed a bolt that was sticking out and he waited.
At about 9:20 p.m., someone noticed the capsized watercraft and called the Coast Guard for help. The Sector Corpus Christi watchstanders diverted the aircrew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from their training mission and deployed a response boat crew from Station Port Aransas to search for a possible missing person.
The helicopter crew launched that day to work on getting one of the pilots qualified for hoist operations, but there wasn't enough time or fuel to land and switch out the pilot.
The reporting source flashed their headlights toward the capsized watercraft to vector the helicopter in. After a 10-minute search of the immediate area, the helicopter's flight mechanic spotted Rickmon partially out of the water, clinging to the bolt. The pilot in training, Lt. Eric Vryheid, was able to maneuver near power lines and a bridge to deliver the rescue swimmer and hoist them both, completing his first rescue.
"I saw a helicopter fly by and tried to signal it with my flashlight, but it had died," said Rickmon. "Then I saw it fly past me again, slower this time, and I waved and splashed water frantically but I was tired so I couldn't splash too much. It was such a relief when I realized that the Coast Guard saw me, and when I saw the rescue swimmer being lowered from the helicopter. I knew I was being rescued."
Rickmon was transported to Sector Corpus Christi where EMS was standing by.
"It was pretty exciting," said Lt. Vryheid. "Going out for training similar to this and getting to actually do it on the same flight was awesome. It was a little more complex than an open water rescue, we had power lines and a bridge nearby. The rescue swimmer had a pretty significant distance to swim."
"I am extremely proud of my crew for their keen eye spotting the survivor and their quick action getting him out of the water to safety,” said Lt. Keith Thomas, the instructor pilot. “It was a very challenging rescue in a confined area as there were multiple hazards in our path, such as power lines. We were also low on fuel."
“For the crew aboard the MH-65 helicopter, whose night began only as a training mission; the unexpected rescue is a testament to the skill of the members of Air Station Corpus Christi to execute the mission, even those unexpected, with proficiency,” said Capt. Samuel Creech, the commanding officer of Air Station Corpus Christi.
Coast Guard reminds boaters that they should always wear life jackets while underway, and, in addition, have flares or other signaling devices as part of their vessel’s safety equipment.